Sunday, August 27, 2023
Friday, August 25, 2023
Here we are again, gathered in a paragraph next to a black and white photograph of a combination check-cashing service and liquor store in the testier blocks of the beach area, writing words to a digital page only for the sake of doing something sublimely inane when inspiration is in brief supply and a sentence is only as powerful as the fingers that rattled off the nonsense. Gathered together for no good purpose, but who is the commander who informs us what the good purpose is? Here we are again in the same room at the same desk with the same plastic coffee can filled halfway with bad pennies no one has loved. In the days of my youth, we used to drive from Michigan to Martinsville, Virginia to visit our southern cousins on my mom’s side of the family. In the recollection, I remember a house in a wooded area that was mountainous to an extent, and behind my grandmother’s abode was a canyon and railroad tracks that were still active on the transportation schedules. I remember seeing boxcars and passenger cars racing past at the bottom of the ravine, a blur partially obscured by thick bramble, bushes, tree branches in full leafy glory. Cut to a drive back home to a Detroit suburb, a straight, flat highway that is wide, occasionally curving around bends and ducking under bridges, a flat stretch without end under a steel grey sky and clouds the color of white cotton that soaked up a streak of black coffee. The radio was blaring news of the war and the newspaper strike between pitchmen screaming about smashing prices and the opening bars of a Doors song before Mom turned off the radio and Dad began to sing “I Love Paris” as he tapped a beat on the steering wheel and a big grin and an interstellar glint came to his eye. The stained clouds gave the cars their burden, a hard rain and punishing wind blew cascades of water across the road that looked like small California waves. My brother and sister next to me in the back seat while I claimed my spot by the rear window. Farmhouses, abandoned tractors hurried by, factories hid behind thick groves of pine trees. Mom lit another cigarette. My sister coughed and my brother farted, a wild, rasping, snorting sound. “I love Paris in the evening…when it’s raining…” my father sang. My mother’s face was obscured by grey smoke, but she began to sing along with him. Their harmony was grating and monotonous and the highway was straight and the sky was large and filled with clouds and fleeting streaks of lightning in the distance terrorizing farm animals or the counterman at a desolate gas station and snack bar just off the expressway exit.
Wednesday, August 9, 2023
Friday, August 4, 2023
The other mark Costello, a younger writer, has equal genius but a different approach to the world, and his novel Big If is perfect, and what makes it works is that Costello accomplishes the dual difficulty of handing us a small town/suburban comedy the likes of John Cheever would have admired. The other is with the rich detailing of the other secret service agents who work with Vi Asplund. There is something of a domestic comedy seamlessly interwoven with a skewed Washington thriller, with the elements of each spilling over and coloring the underlying foundations of both. In the first part of the novel, we have an atheist Republican insurance investigator who has a habit of crossing out the "God" in the "In God We Trust" inscription on all his paper money, replacing the offending word with "us". Vi, years later, winds up in a job where "in us we trust" is the operating rational, as she and her fellow agents strive to protect their protected from the happenstance of crowds, acting out on intricate theories and assumptions that can only be tested in the field.
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. A healthy man goes to visit a friend who is in a mountain-based sanitarium and winds up staying in the sanitarium for seven years. During the years that follow, we witness a character's spiritual and philosophical change and come to a sense of life that eludes the overly cerebral. Thomas Mann is a magnificent writer, and this is easily one of the truly great novels of the 20th century.
Crackpots by Sara PritchardBrief, beautifully written book about an awkward young girl being raised by an eccentric family. Note that there is no child abuse or other hot button stuff engineered in to make the book appeal to the Oprah book clubs, just a humorous and bittersweet novel of a girl, beset with any number of glum circumstances and embarrassments, maturing to a resilient adult with soft irony that gets her through the day. Pritchard is especially fine as prose stylist.
Tuesday, August 1, 2023
The harmonies of the fabled Tremeloes stood out in a crowded field of 60s Brit Pop bands who were notable for their vocal arrangements. As we see here, the harmonies decorate, embellish, and enhance the fetching melody with colors , textures and tones of of the tongue that could have been easily transposed, I would guess, to regular instruments. Solo voice subtly joined by a chorus, combined harmonies seamlessly sliding up the scale rather than abruptly switching keyes. I overstate the case, perhaps, but I've always found their performance of this tune stunning.
Brit-pop in the 60s was a wonderland of sterling harmonies and the Hollies, Graham Nash edition, were champions at musical hooks and vocal synchronization. This punchy little masterpiece grabbed me right away back when I was but a whelp, especially the chorus, a vocal traffic jam of different melody lines stacked atop one another, going in different directions, clashing and dissonant and structurally effective, the brief miasma brought together again with Nash's high note at the end.
Neil Young's sci-fi junkie lament 'After the Goldrush" gets a harmonized rendition in this 1974 release. The lead vocal by Irene Hume reveals a slightly husky voice that characterizes the solo and chorus arrangement, with an appealing result that makes you think of a choir of Melanies . A perfect radio hit for the time, pleasant melody, depressed lyrics, alluring vocal craft.
John Lennonhad a grudge against bandmate Paul , a resentment he dutifully burnished until it was shiny like an acrylic turd, a brown and gleeming chuck of ill will. Of course
he wrote a song about it , laying everything out except Sir McCartney's name. As an issue of disrespect, it's in a class by itself, but the howler of this whole enterprise centers around the most quoted lyric, "...the only thing you did was yesterday..." The longer view of the Beatles reveals PM's contributions to the creative surges was, in fact, profound, at which point it makes me consider the idea that McCartney would likely have been a pop star of some sort without Lennon. Lennon, always a raw dog who improved vastly as a tunesmith , singer and lyricist due to his association with McCartney, would likely have had a rougher go of it.
In future years, the younger folks might be nostalgic as they reminisce about the supposed fun and convenience of Horton Plaza before it eventually became a dead mall now being repurposed. The truth of the matter is that even in its prime, it was an alienated space, full of architectural distractions, detours, and dead ends that seemed designed to magnify your unease and increase your desire to escape your sense of uselessness by exhausting your credit limit and begging creditors for an increase in your credit line. I worked there for several years as a bookseller and made my number one spot to see new movies, and over time you couldn't help by note the waning numbers of people coming to the Plaza, the number of stores advertising off-Holiday Sales with things up to 70 percent off, the closing of stores and the draping of butcher paper over the display windows with a sad sign promising a new retailer coming in soon, watching the calendar pages fly away and noting again the stores were still vacant and that more stores had joined them, that Horton Plaza had become an empty series of angular paths, walkways, bridges to more locked up storefronts, a structural case of architectural schizophrenia where all the eaves, overhangs, arches and such unusual twists cast deep and despairing shadows over the dead concrete few have reason to walk. Let's add here that Horton Plaza is having the finishing touches on a very extensive and expensive reconstruction, with the leviathan being converted to a space intended to attract tech companies with a smaller contingent of retail shops and eateries to placate tourists and dedicated downtowners. How that plays out is up in the air, as there are no facts about the future. I try to be optimistic about the future of the center, but failing to find a workable and effective method to house the many homeless currently on the city streets, I can't help but think that we're setting ourselves up for a bitter and expensive failure.
Wednesday, July 26, 2023
Irony isn't dead. In fact, it's a living yet intangible part of the odd vibes that abound after the disasters of the worst human assumptions being acted upon. It very much feels like some smirking ghost at the side of the road laughing at us while we scratch our heads wondering what the hell happened to our best laid plans. Occasionally, it takes decades for some ironies to become revealed, noticed, observed, as in what, I think, was some of a barely noted reversal of mainstream attitudes about the right and wrong ways of making music. In the very early Sixties, around the time of the British Invasion , I remember all sorts of cartoons and jokes about citizens and music fans attempting to commit suicide when they were exposed to the vocals styles of Jagger, Dylan, or a good number of gruff, nasally singers in the pop world. I remember the Rolling Stones appearance on the old Hollywood Palace variety show on ABC in 1964.
Hosted by Dean Martin, who was either entirely drunk and on his fourth sheet to the wind or doing a brilliant impersonation of a stumbling sot, The Stones performed their songs for the first time to an American tv audience , an historic event enhanced by Martin's slurred insults to the British band. There was a trampoline act at mid show, I remember, a circus act that had a leotard clad family doing impressive tricks of the bouncing variety. When they were done, Martin came on stage again and announced that the elder man in the troupe was the father of the Rolling Stones and had been trying to kill himself with this trampoline act for years. That was a real gasser. Why the hate, and the answer was obvious. The Stones were reintroducing America to a native art, black music, that it had all but forgotten about and found the renditions by the Rolling Stones of classic blues and soul songs alien, offensive, immoral and dangerous. T'werent good singing and offensive to the idea of music! It wasn't even music.
Somewhere along the line all the stoned hippies and rebellious teens grew up, got jobs, had families, and in effect became both their parents and THE MAN , and the same gag now substitutes MOR performers like Dion, Michael Bolton, Michael McDonald, and some others for the old guard. The folks can certainly sing , sing, but the kind of music they make is antithetical to the true liberating and expressive poetry of what REAL music is . Authenticity as the criteria for judgement (an ever vague and elusive concept) has advanced over technical competence and romantically "pretty" offerings. I have had this debate on both sides over the decades, first with my parents, aunts, and uncles and school teachers defending Dylan's music and especially his singing, and through the decades, arguing with young people that boy bands, pop tunesters like Dion, and slow jam funk were criminally commercial junk that was without conviction or soul .
Sunday, July 16, 2023
Some years ago, that is, many years ago when I started this blog, I had the intention of writing an annual report on the state of my sobriety as each anniversary came and went. Something like a report card, a progress report, a mild and very generalized confession of mistakes, bad ideas, bad acts and the attempts to repair whatever damage I caused by making decisions on my wants (not needs) and try to extract a lesson that might be learned from the past year's rash action. That was the idea, but when it came down to it, even though I love to write, and I love to talk and that I love to refer to myself quite a bit in the paragraphs I construct, confession isn't my game, memoirs are not my jam. In the grand scheme of things, my self referencing needs to be anchored to topics that interest me or are the absolute center of my reason to push on another day--literature, films, movies, sex, the Good Fight against Bad People, poetry, always poetry. Maybe when I get to be 73 I'll be moved to spill the beans on a life that's been interfered with by an odd combination of bad self-esteem and arrogance of the first rank. I just turned 71 yesterday, and today I am supposedly celebrating 36 years of continuous sobriety, so that gives me a couple of turns around the sun to evolve into my next form, a humble narcissist, with the product being a long and adjective choked recollection of all the small incidents that leads us up to the current period, sometime in the future, when either everything or nothing is changed.
Tuesday, July 4, 2023
So in the nineties I was in a men's intimacy group, a number of sober guys who wanted to share personal matters, issues, confliction, and compulsions with other sober men on level much deeper and more personal than what offer
up at a standard AA meeting. So this fellow, an alcohol treatment counselor ironically, had just finished a very long monologue on his sexual hangups, with a good number of side trips through other subjects that managed to be both greasy and banal, and when he stopped talking, the rest of us rose from our seats, chairs, the two sofas that were crammed in this studio apartment . So this fellow from South Oakland , whose apartment it happened to be, had TV set hooked up to a VHS player, and a lone, unmarked cassette laying on top of it.
"Let's TAKE A BREAK AND RELAX, FELLAS." So the guy from South Oakland grabbed the cassette and shoved into the video player. So then the from treatment with the curated sexual hangups looked up to the screen. So then you could nearly hear his jaw drop. Imagine a rusty creak, a loud , rasping scrape of severely oxidized metal.
Porn stars flashed on the tv screen, wherein guys in seventies porn mustaches were putting their engorged presences anywhere the actresses would allow. Mod Squad music, cheesey fuzz- tone guitars and Farfisa fantasias, poured from the TV's tinny speaker.
"Yeah" Mr.South Oakland muttered,"Get that, hit that, fug, this is the stuff..." The room filled with cigar smoke and reeked of coffee left on the burner too long as both porn movies and comatose confessions of sexual impropriety filled the room.
Saturday, June 17, 2023
Gadfly Patrick Marlborough offered something of a defense of Australian quasi-comedian Hannah Gadsby's critical and creaky post-feminist takedown of Picasso with a piece claiming to detail what Americans are missing about her show. It's because Americans are unfamiliar with the Australian vernacular, goes the article's claim. You might expect a brief linguistics lecture to be offered here, since it couldn't be anything as obvious that maybe Gadsby isn't really all that funny.
It's clear from the outset that Gadsby's has no love for the artist, and is committed to debunking his myth and exposing his misogyny with a late comer's vigor. (I seem to remember quite a few books and magazine articles about Picasso over the decades that hanged him in effigy for being a brute and all-purpose lout, but no matter). If enough people “miss” what an artist is trying to do or attempting to tell us / teach us/ lecture us about, and if it takes a nervously apologetic essay in a major online platform to direct us to the wisdom that was waiting for us, it's a safe bet the artist flubbed the chance to do anything interesting at.
It's impossible for every misunderstood artist to be an anonymous genius. The odds are not good for even most of them to be any good as visual artists. The more I think about, it seems to be the case that most artists striving to make big statements in abstract fashion are rather muddle-headed fools who have the talent, none of the less, to secure grant money to fund their projects and pay their rent. Her worst sin, it appears, is the smug obviousness of what she's up to with Picasso. Naming this project with the anemic and obvious pun “Pablo-Matic” previews a level of banality that is ironically break—taking. Is this comedy? Criticism? Post-feminist grave digging? Is this any sort of attempt to get us to see Picasso differently through a specifically focused lens? It is none of these things. Worse, it's none of the things in any interesting way. It's a slight shrug of the shoulder, a flat punchline, a cocked head, a side glance, another shrug, another try at irony. All gesture, no ideas.